Massachusetts Expects ESPN Bet to Go Live In-State This Fall

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PENN Entertainment expects to complete the rebranding of its Massachusetts online and retail sportsbooks in November, Bay State gaming regulators said Thursday.

PENN announced on Aug. 8 that it is rebranding its online sports betting operations as ESPN Bet after agreeing to sell Barstool Sports back to founder David Portnoy for one dollar last week. The parent company of PENN Sports Interactive (PSI) and 43 US casinos plans to relaunch its Massachusetts mobile app and online site as ESPN Bet in November, Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) Investigations and Enforcement Bureau Chief Loretta Lillios said Thursday.

That’s in line with ESPN’s announcement last week that PENN Entertainment will relaunch its mobile sportsbook as ESPN Bet this fall in the 16 legalized betting states where PENN Entertainment is licensed.

New branding for PENN’s sportsbook at Plainridge Park Casino outside of Boston has not been announced. Lillios said PPC will appear before the MGC for approval of a new retail sportsbook area on Aug. 24. The rebranded retail book is expected to open its doors in late fall, she said.

The sportsbook first opened at PPC under the Barstool brand on Jan. 31.

“It will not be a Barstool brand,” Lillios said of the new retail area.

Barstool’s Bumpy Regulatory Ride in Massachusetts

PENN launched retail and one of its two sports betting apps in Massachusetts under the Barstool brand in early 2023. The retail and online licenses are tied to PPC, which launched PENN’s retail sportsbook on January 31, followed by a Barstool app launch on March 10. Fanatics Sportsbook is the other online app tethered to PPC.

Barstool’s reputation as a maverick in the sports betting industry – from Barstool-branded shows near college campuses to Dan “Big Cat” Katz’s ‘Can’t Lose Parlay’ that drew the ire of regulators in Massachusetts – raised the occasional eyebrow at the MGC during its time in the commonwealth.

PPC’s bid for a Barstool-branded sportsbook was approved last December only after Commissioner Eileen O’Brien grilled PENN Entertainment CEO Jay Snowden about his company’s relationship with the Barstool brand. O’Brien said she wanted conditions put on licensing for PPC because of Barstool specifically.

“I raised the fact (at an earlier hearing) that tying your brand to that brand brought in the good, bad, and the ugly that came with that brand,” O’Brien said at a Dec. 20 hearing. “And I still have that concern.”

In announcing PENN’s new partnership with ESPN last week, Snowden said in a statement: “This agreement with ESPN and collaboration on ESPN BET allows us to take another step forward as an industry leader. Together, we can utilize each other’s strengths to create the type of experience that existing and new bettors will expect from both companies, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Conditions on Barstool Still Exist in Massachusetts

PENN’s $1.5 billion agreement with ESPN Inc. gives PENN Entertainment exclusive rights to the ESPN Bet trademark in the US for 10 years, with an option to extend the contract another 10 years. PENN also granted ESPN Inc. approximately $500 million in warrants to buy common shares in PENN that will vest over 10 years.

The new deal does not remove Barstool from the watchful eye of the MGC, however.

Lillios said Thursday that conditions attached to PPC’s sports betting licensure require PENN to cooperate in a review of the branding of Barstool Sports. Conditions also apply to the Barstool College Football Show – a live game day broadcast that has raised questions about sportsbook advertising and marketing to underage fans.

Regarding Barstool branding, Lillios said that “the (MGC) review of that is still a relevant matter.” Her division intends to issue a report on that matter in the coming weeks.

As for the Barstool College Football Show, “they will not be promoting PENN” if the shows continue, said Lillios.

photo by: Sharaf Maksumov

About the Author
Rebecca Hanchett

Rebecca Hanchett

Legislative Writer
Based in Kentucky's Bluegrass region, Rebecca Hanchett is a political writer who covers legislative developments at Gaming Today. She worked as a public affairs specialist for 23 years at the Kentucky State Capitol. A University of Kentucky grad, Hanchett has been known to watch UK. basketball from time to time.

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